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Landlords, tenants facing new reality

Olympics have contributed to abundance of rental units now available

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Iain Ross has been looking for the right tenants for three months now. The Vancouver resident maintains a luxury house in Bayshores for his friends - the owners - who live abroad. The two suites in the house were rented out for the six months prior to the Olympics. But since the Games ended the suites, which were going for $5,000 per month for the upstairs suite and $4,000 for the downstairs, have been vacant.

Ross has received only six calls and had no takers.

"I've shown the house to a few people but a lot of people see pictures of the house and when I tell them how much it is, they say, 'My budget's $300,'" he said with a laugh. "Well, obviously it's not going to be $300 a month.

He reduced the rent by $1,000 on each suite to see if he would get any more response. He hasn't received a single call.

The suites Ross is managing may be exceptional, but his experience is fairly typical right now.

Whistler is in the midst of what may be the largest surge in availability of rental accommodation in two decades. It's a drastic reversal in Whistler's rental market from the mad and frantic dash to find accommodation; when stories of people paying $1,200 for a shared room were not uncommon.

"We definitely have more available rental units than we've seen, easily , in the last five years," said Marla Zucht, general manager of the Whistler Housing Authority.

Ross says his friends are financially stable enough that they can absorb the losses from vacant suites without serious repercussions. For many Whistler families however, empty suites mean difficulty paying the mortgage.

"I know a few other people who have higher end places in Whistler who try to rent them out full time and they've been having a hard time," he said.

Nicole Thompson, owner of the Hat Gallery, put the one-bedroom suite in her Nordic Estates home up for rent two months ago. She didn't get a call.

"We were a little bit panicky," she said. "We're young, and in order to pay the mortgage we need that money."

She said that her space, at $1,000-per-month, is on the "lower end" for suites in Whistler.

And that may be precisely why many landlords have had a difficult time renting out their rooms.

"For this season, (rents) are out of whack for the availability versus the prices that are still being asked," said Zucht. "Come winter, will these landlords be able to get those rents? It's hard to say."

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